WENATCHEE, Wash. — With trading relationships stable compared with a year ago, the larger crop of Northwest cherries should open the door to bigger export sales in 2014.
U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics show that exports of cherries from the U.S. in June through September of 2013 totaled 47,227 metric tons, down from 88,876 metric tons in 2012 and 58,274 metric tons in 2011.
While 2013 fresh export cherry shipments during the Northwest shipping window were down 47% in volume compared with 2012, the value of exports totaled $283 million, off just 33% compared with the previous year.
By volume, exports to Canada accounted for about 36% of all U.S. cherry exports during June through September. Hong Kong accounted for 27% of all U.S. cherry sales to global markets during the period, with South Korea at 17%, China and Taiwan with 8% each, Japan 6%, Australia 4% and the United Kingdom buying 2% of U.S. cherry exports for that period.
Export demand should be strong out of the gate in 2014, with importers in Asia expected to be active buyers, said Chris Falk, vice president of Washington Fruit & Produce, Yakima.
New packing technology will allow the company to deliver a better box of fruit to export buyers, he said.
“There are no major structural or phytosanitary issues,” he said. “If fruit quality and size is right, export will easily make up 35% of the crop,” he said.
New optical sorters at Columbia Marketing International’s cherry packing facility also should help export sales, said Bob Mast, president.
Precise sorting for size and color will enhance the consistency of export packs, Mast said. Import buyers don’t want a “checkerboard” look to their box of cherries, he said.
While exports sank last year because of rain-damaged fruit, Mast said better quality this year will buoy sales.
“This year we are hoping that upward of 30% of our fruit will go offshore,” he said.
Most cherries exported are packed bulk, since many Asian retailers merchandise cherries in bulk displays, he said.
Export demand for cherries continues to grow, with South Korea, Australia and other Asian markets strong performers, said Scott Marboe, marketing director for Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers.
“I think B.J. (Thurlby) and the cherry commission have put a lot of effort into it as well and I think it has a great future,” he said.
Jon Bailey, with The Dalles, Ore.-based Orchard View Farms, whhose cherries are marketed by Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group, said offshore export sales may account for one-third of the firm’s total cherry output.
While China has shown growth, reaching more consumers in China is challenged by an underdeveloped infrastructure and lack of refrigerated trucks. Temperatures in the 90s and high humidity shorten the shelf life of unrefrigerated product, he said.
“The market is out there in demand but the biggest issue is control of logistics and the cold chain,” he said.
A recent Medfly detection in Los Angeles could complicate air shipments of cherries sent from Southern California ports to Australia, said Mike Willett, vice president for scientific affairs for the Northwest Horticultural Council, Yakima.
“That shouldn’t have too big of an impact on our folks because of the containers we ship are considered safeguarded,” Willett said.
The Northwest Horticultural Council is working with South Korea’s phytosanitary officials to seek approval of a systems approach for sweet cherry shipments, said Mark Powers, vice president of the council.